Alex Caruso embraces defensive partnership with Chicago Bulls newcomer Patrick Beverley: ‘It gives me energy’
The Chicago Bulls are starting small to close the regular season — and it’s exactly the style of play that defensive specialist Alex Caruso prefers.
Caruso moved into a smaller starting lineup after the Bulls signed fellow defensive guard Patrick Beverley on Feb. 21. The pair displaced second-year point guard Ayo Dosunmu and third-year power forward Patrick Williams, who held down a lengthier starting lineup for the opening two-thirds of the season.
At the time, coach Billy Donovan ascribed the change as a necessity to start games with experience and defensive versatility. And Caruso believes the lineup has allowed him and Beverley to set an immediate defensive pace for the Bulls.
“I like it just because I get to have a little impact right away on the game,” Caruso said. “I’m able to set the tone in that way.”
It’s rare for defensive specialists such as Caruso and Beverley to play on the court at the same time as a player so uniquely similar to themselves.
Both are used to being the singular risk taker, leaping into passing lanes and poking the ball out of opponents’ hands. This aggressiveness is typically balanced by the more conservative defense from their teammates, which prevents those risks from becoming full-blown errors.
But Caruso said the dynamic is even more interesting when he’s on the court with Beverley. Both constantly track one another on defense, preparing to cover quickly when the other jumps on a mishandled ball or a lackluster pass.
Caruso said the connection was immediate, allowing both players to adapt and react to each other’s risk-taking.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “We’re both good at covering up mistakes. It really bodes well for us because we both do a lot of the same stuff on that end. We play with a lot of energy and a lot of hustle and little things like that don’t turn into big things with easy points for the other team. For me, it’s been pretty easy finding his rhythm and then playing off him and then vice versa.”
The effect has been obvious. In the third quarter of Beverley’s home debut against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bulls defense swarmed across half court, forcing their flustered opponent into a shot-clock violation. As the buzzer sounded, Caruso bounded off the court, clenching his fists as he tipped his head back and let out a scream.
When he turned back to the court, Beverley was the first player to greet him, and they crashed their chests as they grinned and shouted praise to one another.
The Bulls need energy down the stretch. Their 119-111 victory against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night moved them into the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference — good for the last spot in the play-in tournament. It’s about more than just improving their shot and winning games over beatable opponents — the main inconsistency for this team has always come down to effort.
As they continue to tiptoe along the bubble for play-in contention, the future remains tenuous for the team’s postseason hopes. But Caruso feels his connection with Beverley is one key to jump-starting the Bulls.
“We’ve been able to collaborate from the start,” Caruso said. “He plays with that kind of infectious energy that I like to play with, so we’ve just leaned on each other in our energy and our pace. It gives me energy to be able to go out there and play well.”